Shame is a common emotion experienced by almost everyone at some point, it can feel painful and uncomfortable. Shame can erode our sense of self, creating feelings of humiliation, embarrassment or unworthiness. It can also lead to harmful or destructive behaviours and yet we don’t usually talk about it directly.
When people are seeking support, they will rarely tell you they are wanting to treat feelings of shame. In all likelihood, they will talk about feeling worthless, unlovable, judged, excluded or angry at the world. Underneath all of these feelings, there are likely to be deep feelings of shame.
Exploring Shame has been designed to enable conversations about the anatomy and purpose of shame and how shame can distort our thinking. The cards can help support people to build a toolkit that enables them to recognise, engage and transform feelings of shame into more constructive and hopeful emotions and actions.
What is shame?
Shame is that uncomfortable emotion characterised by feelings of humiliation, embarrassment or unworthiness. While it is often associated with a particular experience or series of experiences in which people believe they have behaved in a dishonourable, unethical or disrespectful way, it can also be attached to experiences in which the person had no power to change the situation, as in childhood abuse, bullying or family violence. Shame is often accompanied by feelings of fear (particularly fear of judgement), rejection and exclusion.
Because oppressors are experts at setting up the conditions for the oppressed to feel ashamed about who they are, people who have experienced exclusion, oppression or violence as a result of race, gender, religion, sexuality, disability or culture nearly always have underlying feelings of shame.
Some people experience a highly judgmental inner-critic, or what might be described as a ‘voice of shame’. This critical voice can be relentless and can significantly undermine a person’s capacity to grow and change.
There are also a quite specific set of physiological symptoms or physical sensations associated with shame including things like a nauseous feeling in the pit of the stomach, a wave of heat moving up the body, racing pulse, constriction of the throat, dry mouth and hot cheeks.
How can the Exploring Shame cards help?
The 30 evocative, photo-based cards in Exploring Shame can be used to gently name, unpack and work with feelings of shame. They are designed to open up constructive and respectful conversations about things people may prefer to keep hidden or things they don’t like about themselves.
Use the Exploring Shame cards to talk about:
- how we can learn to recognise shame
- what shame feels like in the body
- how shame can be contagious or can be passed down through families
- the difference between shame and guilt
- our inner-critic or ‘voice’ of shame
- whether the shame is ours or someone else’s
- how causing harm to others can generate feelings of shame.
Who are the Exploring Shame cards for?
Exploring Shame cards are ideal for counsellors, social workers, psychologists, counsellors, teachers and parents who want to create respectful and safe spaces for conversations about things that may be uncomfortable or difficult to talk about. They are designed to be used with adults and young people in one-on-one therapeutic conversations, groups or classrooms.
The cards also come with an in-depth 54 page booklet with lots of ideas for activities in a range of settings.
More information on the cards here: Exploring Shame
More information on creating safe spaces: